You can’t learn to fly without having a few moments that make you go “uh-oh”. I think of an uh-oh moment as a situation that can lead to feeling uncomfortable or panicked which could then lead to me making a bad decision that could potentially have dire consequences.
The reason for writing this blog post was because of an event that happened during a recent solo I found myself making an approach to the airfield and being too high. I consider this an uh-oh moment for two reasons: it was my first solo approach of the day and there were a couple of different decisions I could have made.
I like to think I have been a fairly confident flyer so far, but going solo can produce a few nerves which can contribute to bad decision making. For example: you might not identify you are in a bad situation and therefore not make a decision you should or you might identify a bad situation and in the stress of the situation just want to get back down onto the ground and make a bad decision.
As I said above, there were two decisions I could have made during that approach: carry on with my descent and approach the runway too fast and possibly land half way down it or simply go around and try again. The right decision is pretty simple, right? It is. Go around is the right answer and it what I did. However, in the heat of the moment surrounded by noise and vibrations all I wanted to do was get back down to terra firma as quickly as possible.
Another less obvious uh-oh moment is when something unexpected but explainable happens. In the moment you might not realise why it has happened.
This uh-oh moment occurred during the ascent after take-off where I found myself reaching five-hundred feet in a fraction of the the time I expected. Five-hundred feet is important because I make my turn onto the cross-wind leg at that point. My rate of climb was high because the headwind had increased in speed since my previous take-off.
I consider this to be an uh-oh moment because I was in unfamiliar territory: if I turned now I would be probably be flying over a village and breaking noise abatement rules and if I went onwards I would be higher than I expected earlier than expected. Whilst not a terrible situation to be in it is a situation I probably could have prepared myself for. I should have been listening to the information provided by the radio and jotted down wind speeds; with that I would have noticed the change and could have anticipated the increased rate of climb. Additionally I should have spent some time on the ground thinking about what I would do if I found myself higher than expected. After all, the height situation is not that different to where I would find myself if I were doing a go around.
My final uh-oh example happened during a turn onto final: I overshot the centreline and was too far to the right and need to get myself back in-line. During that corrective turn I could have found myself turning too steeply and potentially stalling whilst low to the ground. This would happen because turning aggressively increases the g forces on the aircraft which in turn increases the stall speed of the aircraft. If you aren’t careful as small corrective action could lead to an incident. It may be better to go around on your final leg rather than risk a stall at a lower speed and height.
These may only be basic and simple examples as I am restricted to my limited experience. But I think they could help to show that a bit of preparation and level headed thinking during a flight can go a long way.
I should add that I am not an instructor of any kind and I am still working on my PPL. These are just observations I have had from my time in the air.